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After a public campaign period that saw three members express their interest in serving as mayor pro tem, Austin City Council voted unanimously on Wednesday to elect District 1 Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison to the largely ceremonial position. Austin Mayor Steve Adler proposed a compromise in which she will be succeeded, early next year, by District 10 Council Member Alison Alter.
Harper-Madison replaces former District 2 Council Member and current Travis County Attorney Delia Garza. "This year council will take on some of the biggest unsettled issues in our city," Harper-Madison said. "Issues that are settled in institutional racism."
Alter agreed that members have their work cut out for them. "We as a council and a city have many, many challenges in front of us," she said, congratulating Harper-Madison
Although the role brings no additional authority and mostly entails presiding over meetings when the mayor is absent, it was clamored for by multiple council members.
First, District 4 Council Member and avowed progressive Greg Casar announced his interest—and the support of four of his colleagues—in the position in a Dec. 16 post to the council message board. "We are greater than the sum of our parts, and as Mayor Pro Tem I would take seriously the responsibility to actively welcome diverse perspectives, encourage healthy debate, and help build the consensus necessary to address our greatest challenges in a way that makes people's lives better," he wrote.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler responded that he supported Casar's run, seemingly delivering a victory.
Shortly after his announcement, however, many council members began receiving calls from constituents opposed to a Mayor Pro Tem Casar, fearing that "Council is becoming too progressive," according to a Dec. 21 post from Casar. Other council members raised concerns about having a male mayor and a male pro tem given that eight of the council's 11 members are women.
"Let me be clear, if the interest amongst my colleagues is to ensure greater female representation, you have my support," Casar wrote. "But we cannot cave into right-wing pressure from the wealthiest parts of town, simply because our Council has voted to affirm Black Lives Matter, advance labor victories and protect the civil rights of our homeless population."
Casar announced he would happily step aside to support a female candidate for mayor pro tem from the Eastern Crescent. Two people—Harper-Madison and District 2 Council Member Vanessa Fuentes, who took office earlier this month—fit this description.
The following day, District 10 Council Member Alison Alter announced her interest in the role. "I believe it's important for our children to see that women lead political institutions," she wrote in a Dec. 22 post to the message board. District 7 Council Member Leslie Pool shifted her support from Casar to Alter in response to calls from constituents. District 9 Council Member and former Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo also supported Alter.
A week later, Harper-Madison publicly announced her interest in the role in a Dec. 28 post. "The role is largely ceremonial, but I do think how we fill it is a decision steeped in important symbolism that our constituents notice," she wrote.
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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday that Texas will opt out of further federal unemployment benefits related to the pandemic effective June 26, citing the number of current job openings and concern about potentially fraudulent unemployment claims. The benefits include a $300 weekly supplement.
"The Texas economy is booming and employers are hiring communities across the state," Abbott said in a statement. "According to the Texas Workforce Commission, the number of job openings in Texas is almost identical to the number of Texans who are receiving unemployment jobs."
TWC listed 837,273 job openings as of Monday afternoon compared to 226,849 unemployment insurance claims filed statewide between March 31 and May 1. An estimated 1 million Texans were unemployed as of March, according to latest estimates released by the state agency.
Some local business owners, including Doc's Backyard Grill owner Charles Milligan, suspect unemployment benefits are deterring Austinites from returning to work. But others agree with economists who say multiple factors are at play, including health concerns and child care availability.
We're seeing lots of posts about how nobody wants to work right now. Just wanted to share our experience.
We received over 60 resumes for a taproom bartender position we posted last week. Every applicant we've set up an interview with has shown up.
People want 𝘨𝘰𝘰𝘥 work.
— Austin Beerworks (@AustinBeerworks) May 11, 2021
Abbott also cited fraudulent unemployment claims. Between March 2020 and April 2021, TWC received 4.48 million unemployment benefit applications, 611,000 or around 14% of which were tagged as suspicious. Most of those tagged were blocked before any benefits were paid out, according to an April 29 press release.
Federal law requires the effective date of such benefits change to be at least 30 days after the U.S. Department of Labor is notified.
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